Sunday, June 11, 2017

Hyken Knives Bushcrafter Review

Hyken Knives Bushcrafter

Call me a latecomer to the Bushcraft knife crowd.  I've never been enticed to spend a couple hundred dollars on a knife that's designed to do what twenty dollar knives have been doing for generations.  That changed when I was privy to the shop drawings of Hyken Knives new Bushcrafter.  On seeing those drawings, I knew that this was one knife I had to have.  

A short time later, the Postman cometh, bringing forth great treasure in the form of steel, micarta and leather - my Bushcrafter had arrived.  Here's the Hyken Bushcrafter's specs and features:

Overall Length:     Approx. 8.25"
Blade Length:        Approx. 4"
Blade steel:            CPM-154 Stainless at 60-61RC hardness
Blade thickness:    .156"
Blade grind:           Scandinavian grind with a convexed edge (Scandivex)
Handle thickness:  .85"
Handle:                  Black canvas micarta (many other options are available)
Weight:                  6.3oz
Included in the box was a very unique, high quality "Maduro" colored leather sheath and a USGI type P-38 multi-purpose tool on a matching leather key fob - more on that later. 
Here's the knife in hand -

What drew my eye to the original design drawings was the handle.  It is somewhat of a teardrop shape with one forward finger groove.  It's look is appealing.  In practical application, it works and works well.  The forward finger groove causes the knife to index perfectly in hand.  The handle shape melts into the hand, making it feel like a natural extension. It is very easy to manipulate and control effectively, regardless of task being performed.  I have a rather large mitt and the Bushcrafter is comfy in the hand whether I'm bare-handed or wearing gloves - the size and shape is just right.

I used the Bushcrafter around the house doing mundane chores for nearly a month before I was finally able to get it into the field for a real workout. Tasks performed around the house included trimming some pesky vines growing on our back fence, some kitchen work, some cutting cardboard and cable ties, and a whole heckuva lot of whittling fuzz sticks and try sticks while itching to get to camp.  The Bushcrafter's scandivex edge held up exceptionally well.  The CPM-154 steel is very resistant to wear and the convexed edge ensures that there is ample steel supporting the cutting carbides.  All that was required before I went to camp was about a minute's worth of stropping on leather charged with Bark River's black stropping compound to make sure the edge still hair popping sharp. 

At camp, the knife performed typical woodworking / bushcrafting tasks flawlessly  - the guys who gathered around to test the Bushcrafter were able to get decent shavings off the rock hard piece of wood I'd selected.

The Bushcrafter batoned nicely, even through wood nearly as thick as the blade is long.  The Bushcrafter brushed off the experience with no damage and barely a trace of evidence - again, a tribute to the wear resistance and toughness of the CPM-154 steel selected for the build. 

After a good cleaning, the Bushcrafter also got pressed into service for camp kitchen work, here I am using the Hyken Bushcrafter to prepare a pre-lunch pass around snack - 

A word of warning - cutting hard cheese is NOT the Bushcrafter's forte.  I had to cut the cheeses on the wide axis as the .156" thick blade caused the cheese to break rather than cut on the narrow axis - a small price to pay when you're doing the "one knife" routine. [Author's note: The few pieces of torn sausage you'll see in the pic above were done by hand - some of the sausage had to be sent to the Lab for testing.]

Both the Bushcrafter and the snack were well received.

The Bushcrafter's sheath has to be mentioned in detail.  It is a stoutly made deep pouch design with some rather unique features.  It is a double stitched, rich reddish brown leather that Hyken calls "Maduro" colored.  The look is clean and eye pleasing. At the sheath's mouth, there is a reinforcing rivet.  At the bottom, there is a lanyard hole and a drainage hole.

Knife retention is achieved by both friction and the addition of a rare earth magnet in the back of the sheath. The magnet also helps guide the knife back into the sheath without any accidental cuts.  The belt loop will accommodate belts up to 2.25" wide and will also accommodate an optional drop down "dangler" attachment.  Also on the back of the sheath there is a very unique fire steel holder which can be stretched to accept up to a 3/8" diameter fire steel.  It is shown in the pic below with a 1/4" custom made firesteel by my friend Travis Kuhn.  If you don't use the slot for a firesteel, it could also be a handy place to conveniently tuck away a small folder or flashlight with a spring steel belt clip.

I've known Reid Hyken for over a decade. With Reid's background of knife and sheath design and experience, I knew his Bushcrafter would have the promise of performance - and perform it does, admirably. Add to that the fact that the Hyken Bushcrafter was being built by Bark River Knives and comes with BRK's no-nonsense lifetime warranty - you have a real winning combination.  The Hyken Knives Bushcrafter is an heirloom quality, hard using knife.  

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Marble's Woodcraft 100th Anniversary Knife Review

The venerable Marble's Woodcraft Knife was originally designed in 1914 by George W. Brooks.  Mr. Brooks took his design to Marble's and contracted Marble's to make the knife. Seeing promise in this design, Marble's acquired the rights to the design and began limited production of the Woodcraft in 1915. By 1916, the Woodcraft was a staple in the Marble's Knife catalogue. The Marble's Woodcraft has been made in various iterations over the past century, both on-shore and off-shore.  The versions made in the USA by Marble's have gained a legendary reputation for exemplary performance in the field.

The current version of the Marble's Woodcraft 100th Anniversary Knife is a true 100% American Made knife, made by Mike Stewart and the good folks at Bark River Knives. It is made under license for the Marble's name, which is owned by Blue Ridge Knives. The Woodcraft carries with it Bark River's no-nonsense, rock solid warranty.

Here's the Woodcraft's specs:
Overall Length: 8 1/4"
Blade Length: 4 1/2"
Handle length: 3 3/4"
Blade Steel: A2 Tool Steel
Blade grind: Fully convexed
Blade Thickness: .185"
Handle: Stacked Leather
Weight: approx 5 oz.
Sheath: (as supplied) right hand tanned leather

Opening the box on my sample knife was like taking a step back in time to my childhood, circa 1969. Back then, I spent a lot of time in NY's Adirondacks with my Great Uncle Charlie. It was my job to pack Unc's packbasket prior to each of our endeavors into the woods to forage for leeks and fiddleheads. The very first things in the packbasket were always Uncle Charlie's prized Marble's Woodcraft and his old Plumb hatchet. I admit that, on seeing this knife, I choked up some remembering those golden times...

The only difference I can see between early versions of the Woodcraft and the current model are:

1. Steel type, 1095 carbon steel (olde) vs A2 Tool Steel (new),
2. Blade thickness .125" (olde) vs .185" (new), and;
3. The fact that the current iteration does not have checkering on the spine.
The current version mirrors the 1924 design specs pretty closely.

So what did Marble's see in this design that led to it's inclusion in their line-up? I believe that the reason is because the Woodcraft is the true grandfather of the current genre of "bushcraft" knives. In the early 1900's, using your fixed blade knife for anything other than processing fur, fish, fowl or game was unheard of. Knives of this size typically had a blade thickness of .10" or less - sometimes far less. What we refer to now as bushcrafting tasks back then were accomplished with an axe or hatchet, saw, and maybe a stout pocketknife. Batoning a knife to split wood or make kindling was unheard of. The Woodcraft broke away from that tradition and was purposefully designed and built stoutly enough to handle separating bones on large game, carving trap triggers, making tent stakes and the like. In that it has a step down stick tang under the leather washer handle, batoning the Woodcraft to split wood, whether you have a 1916 version or a 2016 version is probably not a good idea - it was not designed for that type of abusive treatment. However, the Woodcraft is perfectly capable of processing kindling and tinder as long as you use proper technique in performing the baton cuts.  By proper technique I mean:

1. Keep the blade spine parallel to the deck throughout the cut to avoid creating a mechanical shear which could cause a break, and;
2. Cut all the way through the material being baton cut - do not cut partially through and then pry the wood apart.  Doing so could cause a break or bend.

I've seen a lot of knives damaged by user error by not using proper techniques.

Some may balk at the size of the Woodcraft's handle. At 3 3/4", it just doesn't sound very big. On the odd occasion that I wear gloves, size Large fits me, albeit somewhat snugly. The Woodcraft fits my hand very nicely in a variety of grips and locks in place providing good purchase. It is nimble in the hand and easy to manipulate for a host of cutting chores. One thing I love about the handle length is that for drilling, ie. beginning cuts in a hearth board for a bow-drill spindle, it is very comfortable and easy to bear down on with the nicely rounded pommel.

I was thinking of a way to show the knife's cutting ability - the Woodcraft is made from Mike Stewart's legendary A2 tool steel and is expertly convex ground by his staff.  We know it will cut.  Then it came to me.  Anyone who camps with us knows the quality of my wife's cooking.  One of her specialties is soup and one of my favorite soups is her 1860's style corn chowder, which calls for salt pork.  If you've ever tried slicing and cubing salt pork, you know it can be a real PITA with a poor quality blade or a blade that isn't really sharp.

Hence, I put the Woodcraft through several pieces of salt pork, using just a little more than the weight of the knife alone to slice through without cutting the thick skin underneath.  It did very well, but I did have a hard time not cutting skin.   I fillet the strips of salt pork off the skin and save the skin to slice up into thick strips to be fried up for dog treats - my dog Jake loves them.

So what is my impression of the Bark River made Marble's Woodcraft?  The Legend continues.  This knife is absolutely a keeper whether you're a collector or hard-core user who likes gear with an olde-timey flare.  I love this knife!!! 

Where do you find the knife, you ask?  Try my good friends at  ...       M